Tell me about your experience buying an iPad for an elderly person
December 2, 2013 12:29 PM   Subscribe

My mom, who recently sold her home and moved into senior housing, has expressed interest in owning some sort of computing device. She's basically computer illiterate, has never been on the internet, and has trouble using my TV remote control sometimes. Am I crazy to even consider getting her an iPad?

She's smart enough and sharp for an 81 year-old. She's figured out her cell phone enough to make and answer calls and she even took a photo and sent it once. So there's hope. But things like swiping the wrong way and accidentally opening the notification center might confuse her.

She's interested because her housing unit uses email and/or web for a lot of communications and of course family and friends do as well. I don't imagine she'd have much use for Facebook or Twitter but who knows. I really don't want her friending me on Facebook.

I'm also seeing it as a way to send her photos. I think I can set up a photo stream for her.

Immediate uses would probably be email, photos, the camera, maybe weather.


1) In your experience, is an iPad something an older, not-very-technical person would be able to use? Would they even find it useful?

2) What are some best practices for setting it up, other than hiding icons she might not need or use?

3) What are some things to look out for? Pitfalls?

4) Any other tips?

5) Is this just a bad idea?

6) What am I forgetting to ask? I realize this if a vague, open-ended question.

Complication: She doesn't currently have internet access and all the WiFi access points I see from her apartment are locked. She'd need to pay for access, which means I'd probably pay for the first few months.

My son would probably be able to answer most of her questions. I can set it up for her initially but when it comes to guiding her along I have all the patience of an over-caffeinated Tasmanian Devil in line at the DMV.

I think I'm only considering an iPad. We're an Apple household and my son has an iPad mini and would be able to help her out. I like the idea that if she gets stuck she pushes the home button and she's back at the main menu. If there is an argument to be made for another make/model tablet that would be better suited to an elderly person, I'm willing to listen. I generally like and trust Apple products though and think they are worth the premium.
posted by bondcliff to Computers & Internet (31 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
I'm an Apple person too, but I was intrigued by the Kindle Fire ads that show their Mayday button where you get a customer service person to talk to who can circle and point to things on your screen to show you want to do. My immediate thought was, wow, where was that when I was having to play tech support for my mom! Plus it's cheaper if she doesn't end up liking it.

Oops, saw you're only considering an iPad. Sorry!
posted by cecic at 12:41 PM on December 2, 2013

I've heard that many elderly people love them, so, no, it's not bad as an idea.
posted by thelonius at 12:45 PM on December 2, 2013

My Dad is 81 and he has never really used computers. Doesn't like 'em, isn't interested in 'em, is a little bit scared of them. My mom is much younger and has always liked computers. She has an iPad, and has had for about a year.

My Dad will pick up the iPad and flip through pictures in a shared photostream that has pictures of brother's baby daughter. He can sometimes manage to answer a Facetime call and usually manage to end it. If he accidentally pauses it, though, someone else has to tell him how to get it back.

He could do more -- he's figured out how to do some fairly complicated things using his multiple remote controls for his TV/DVD/Cable box -- but he doesn't need to figure out the iPad, because my mom is always there to tell him what to do, and he doesn't want to.

The biggest thing, I think, is attitude, not aptitude. If your mom *wants* to use the iPad, then there's probably not anything stopping her -- they're very straightforward. If she doesn't want to, then not knowing how is something she can maintain for a very long time.
posted by jacquilynne at 12:45 PM on December 2, 2013 [7 favorites]

Do consider the font size; on the iPad my grandma has, the Accessibility option to increase the font size does *not* increase the font size of several important features (in her case, most importantly, the time in the bar across the top). She does use it, but mostly when a relative is there to help her along.

Does there exist a "how to set up an iPad for your eldery relative" how-to? I feel like it must be out there, and it's worth finding; there's a pile of apps and settings that will ease use, and the easier it is to use, the more likely it is to work. I don't think it helped my grandma much that I don't have an iPad so I couldn't really show her right away what to do; I had to tinker, and though that was a great lesson for my mom, my grandma just wanted it to work.
posted by nat at 12:50 PM on December 2, 2013

You might want to take a look at my previous question about buying an iPad for my great-grandmother.

I would consider getting her one with a data plan, because that's one less thing to worry about. In my case, buying a data plan cost the same as internet service in her assisted living.

My great-grandma is 95 and loves her iPad. The shared photo stream is great, family members can send her photos effortlessly, and she can show them to everyone at her center.

She uses facetime and Skype, but mostly when there is someone around to assist her with it, but she enjoys it.

Make sure that you write down her passwords somewhere for her, and also make sure that you and whoever else she calls for help knows those passwords as well. You can also set up her iTunes account so that she doesn't have a credit card on file. You can "gift" her money to her iTunes account from yours to start her off.
posted by inertia at 12:51 PM on December 2, 2013

Our local seniors center actually offers classes on 'how to use your ipad', and they are not what I'd consider a progressive place...obviously there are lots of seniors who are using them. If your Mom would consider joining a class, maybe there is a similar thing near to here, which might allow her to get the most from the device.

My mom uses my ipad sometimes, and seems to be fine with it, and shes not terribly technologically oriented. I'd say, go for it!
posted by Northbysomewhatcrazy at 12:52 PM on December 2, 2013

My parents are not typical 73 year olds. My mom got an iPad mini because it would fit in her purse. She uses it regularly. She still does Sudoku in the newspaper rather than finding a Sudoku app (but I know 40 year olds who are the same way).

My Mother-in-Law has expressed some interest, mostly as a better way of looking up programs on the UVerse TV app. She didn't express much interest, but some. Other people in her assisted living facility have them. We see them around the lobby.

I'd say it's definitely a possibility if she's interested.
posted by Mad_Carew at 12:53 PM on December 2, 2013

My grandma is about 88 and LOVES loves her iPad. She never really took to the computer, but loves to sit in her easy chair and poke at the various icons.

My 66 year old mother-in-law hated her Kindle Fire. She thought she hated all technology and refused to think about other options. We ended up getting her an iPad too. She loves it. I bought a small moleskin notebook and wrote out very simple instructions for her. She checks the weather, reads all about the Pope on the surprisingly well-designed Pope App (tm), sends emails and loves getting Facetime calls.

I wouldn't get the iPad Mini -- too small for elderly hands and eyes.
posted by barnone at 12:58 PM on December 2, 2013

My mother is in that age bracket, never used a computer, and I bought her an Ipad mini last year. She's done OK, but you need someone who can patiently explain things. Probably not the things you expect to explain, but concepts like " a browser" that you assume everyone now knows about.

Helps to focus on one thing they're really interested in (email?) and be patient with, eg using Google as the only means of navigation.

Also my father, who owned all computation in the house till now, would swear the wifi was on when in fact he only switched it on when his PC was in use.
posted by Segundus at 1:00 PM on December 2, 2013

My grandma is 90 and we got her a Kindle Fire last year. She has had a computer for nearly 20 years now. She has no idea how to use her computer. She was using her tablet within an hour of getting it.

This is not crazy at all. I think your mom would be very happy with an ipad, and actually do much better with it than with a regular computer.

Put angry birds on it. Help her find a group on facebook from her hometown, or perhaps her high school's alumni page. Have your kid facetime with her.

She's gonna love it.
posted by phunniemee at 1:02 PM on December 2, 2013

Actually, I think the iPad would be the easiest device to show someone how to use who didn't have much computer literacy. There are no confusing file hierarchies to understand (Hello my mom trying to use Windows XP!) This seems like an excellent idea. If you remember, please update the thread and let us know how it works out.
posted by futureisunwritten at 1:05 PM on December 2, 2013

While volunteering with the elderly I have found the iPad + Spotify magical for bringing back old music that people love.
posted by steinsaltz at 1:05 PM on December 2, 2013

My Dad is relatively tech unsavvy, and insisted on buying himself a cheap Windows laptop (against my recommendation). Two years later he barely used it, and said it kept breaking all the time. For his 81st birthday I bought him an iPad, and he LOVES that thing. He browses the web, watches TV on it, Facetimes me, uses Facebook, plays with the select few Apps he has bought. He does occasionally have minor issues - can't print something, gets stuck in portrait mode when we facetime, but overall it is so much easier to use. I highly recommend it. And yes, get a full size not a mini, the bigger screen is helpful for older eyes.
posted by Joh at 1:09 PM on December 2, 2013

My 91 year old father got an iPad 2 and loves it, he especially loves FaceTime and has been calling me and his grandson up daily for chats since he got it, which is great fun for all.

For context, my dad has some familiarity with technology as he's built his own desktops in the past but struggles with stuff like file management (where did my file go?) and being too trusting on the internet (for cripes sake, don't click that link) and also suffered a mild stroke a few years ago.

For now, he only has the stock iOS 7 apps on it and hasn't complained about not being able to figure out which app is which, which might be because he has just a handful to choose from. I plan to show him how to use the App Store when I visit: the big barrier for him here is being wary about buying things online.

The biggest issue for my dad has been the maximum volume, it doesn't go up high enough for him to always be able to hear clearly (he's hearing impaired). I'm trying to figure out a way to amplify the sound in a way that doesn't cause conflicts with his hearing aid or diminish the portability of the iPad, however even with the lower sound level, overall our communication has improved over talking over the phone because we can see each other.

Other issues have been he's dropped it several times, once glass-down right on the edge of a brick fireplace while Facetiming with me (that was an interesting sight). Fortunately the iPad has survived all the drops but I'm getting him a sturdy case with a handgrip on the back.

Another issue is he gets fatigued holding it up for chat and starts to tilt the device back until I'm looking at his ceiling fan. I'm getting him a case-friendly stand for this. Related, he has a black one and thus doesn't have an easy reminder of where the front facing camera is so I've spent several sessions chatting with his thumb. I think I'll add a sticker around the camera lens during my next visit.

My dad's iPad was a replacement for an Android tablet (not a Fire) that he had significant user issues with: nothing someone who understood the meta-issues of why one would change that setting, disallow that permission or re-enter a password might have, but a big obstacle for him despite my setting up that tablet initially. I did no such set up for his iPad, he unboxed it himself and after I walked him through getting it onto his wifi (turned out he had forgotten his password), he's been on his own with it since. He's so very delighted by FaceTime that he's been calling all of his brothers and pestering them to go get one so they can all easily video chat.

You can turn off iOS 7's Notification Center in Settings, there's many other settings in Accessibility that are helpful, including enabling Speak Selected Text.
posted by jamaro at 1:12 PM on December 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

I have an older relative who is a careful and systematic person (eg with written records and postal correspondence) but couldn't tell you how to use a VCR, never used a computer etc. She got an iPad and loves it.
posted by LobsterMitten at 1:15 PM on December 2, 2013

My son could use the ipad before he turned 2. Once people learn what the icons look like they're set.

I will agree that accessibility on the ipad is not great. I have vision issues and there are a few apps where the font just will not increase in size, at all, ever. Samsung Galaxy tablets are much better in this regard, with true embiggening and with an "easy" home screen mode. If big fonts are needed, that's the only reservation I have about the ipad.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 1:27 PM on December 2, 2013

One bonus point for the iPad is that there are (free?) classes at the Apple stores on using the device, so if there's an Apple store near by, and your mother can get there, that's another avenue for assistance. Plus, if she's in a senior housing complex, the staff may be able to assist her with minor questions.
posted by filthy light thief at 1:37 PM on December 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

Another data point- my FIL, in his 70s, tends to be very "rote" about using computers. Mrs. RKS or I have to write out checklists, instruction sets, etc. He got an iPad and has taken to it very well. He still gets my wife to do a lot of stuff when it comes to configuring, updating, etc., but I think that's because it's just - easier. :-)
posted by randomkeystrike at 2:04 PM on December 2, 2013

We got my mother an iPad for her birthday 2 years ago and she loves it. She was relatively comfortable around computers beforehand and was able to surf and create documents in Open Office (her home computer runs Linux).

About the only downside to her iPad experience has been that as no one else in the family has an iOS product when something breaks or changes on the iPad we can't really help her out. We just look around and see if we can fix it. As yours is an Apple household you won't have that problem.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 2:20 PM on December 2, 2013

You can turn off a lot of the multitouch gestures that let you navigate among apps, so that you just push the button to go back to the home screen, swipe back and forth among app screens, and pick an app. Turning these off mean many fewer accidental app switches or opening of notifications or whatever. It's a little more cumbersome than being able to swipe back and forth between apps using four fingers or whatever, but MUCH easier.

The thing about the iPad is that the ONE BUTTON always takes you home and any time you screw anything up you can just hit the ONE BUTTON to start over. My two year old rarely needs help with the iPad because he figured out to just hit the ONE BUTTON whenever something he doesn't like happens, and then start his app over. If he accidentally opens the help section, or clicks an ad and it goes to the browser, or something freezes, or he picks the wrong game, he just hits the ONE BUTTON and tries again.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 2:50 PM on December 2, 2013

My 88 year old father was given one as a gift. He is very pc computer literate. He struggles with the iPad. He has a Parkinson's shake that makes holding it a little difficult. He did comment when I was visiting last week after a Facetime chat with a grandchild that he had been waiting since the 1964 World's Fair for a video phone and finally got it. Crossed that off his bucket list. I would say that getting an iPad for an elderly relative is very dependent on the ultimate user.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 4:19 PM on December 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

I just got my 83-yo mom a tablet for Chanukah and the transition has not been as seamless as I'd hoped. She had been using my old Mac PowerBook, only for email and internet browsing so I cheaped out and got her a kind of crappy Acer, but there has been one huge and unexpectedly frustrating problem.

Due in part to her arthritis, she is having a lot of difficulty with the touch aspect. It's one thing for her to spend a little time practicing on an icon or on opening a particular email, but it's been almost impossible for her to type anything. She might press and hold a little too long and end up with special characters, or she might accidentally flick her finger just enough to miss the letter or get nothing.

Angry Birds was another exercise in frustration. She though she thought it was hilarious that the birds ended up flying all over the place and was much more good-natured about it than I was, but the point is she hard a lot of trouble with it.

I think the conceptual difficulties she had are going to be anecdotal and have more to do with relearning what a back arrow icon looks like; the OS is the part that most people have positive reports about. It just never occurred to me that she would have physical difficulties. I'm going to buy her a stylus, and if that doesn't help I shell out for an iPad and see if that help. She is quite excited about it overall, however, even if she has moments of frustration.
posted by Room 641-A at 4:34 PM on December 2, 2013

Go for an iPad with 3G and a long term data plan.

I finally talked my very reluctant friends (80 and 86) into getting an iPad, just before I travelled overseas for 5 months so wasn't available for tech support soon after they got it. Neither had ever used computers before. The icons and touch makes it easy, and if you stress that "you're not going to break it" and to play around, they could get the basics very easily, especially email, weather, photos etc. I'd suggest a game, especially something old skool like Solataire. Encourage playing, and you'll find that the confidence gained in using the device will grow enormously.

Keep your son on hand for iOS updates, but be positive and you will create an addict!
posted by Flashduck at 5:28 PM on December 2, 2013

Facetime was key for my in-laws getting their iPads set up. Being able to video chat with grandkids and see their pet dogs when travelling sold them. Also when they realised they could easily search youtube on it for hobby videos and get apps for certain hobbies - dance steps and tango videos.

What is she super-interested in? Books, cooking, crosswords, geneology? Pre-load related apps and videos to make her want to use the iPad.

You can filter on facebook so she can only see specific posts you've allowed, when she gets facebook eventually. It's a hassle but beats hurt feelings.
posted by viggorlijah at 9:56 PM on December 2, 2013

My elderly mom who never really used a computer got an iPad for Xmas last year and I've been helping her use it. It's been pretty fucking amazing. Thank you, FaceTime, because you made my mom shriek in amazed ZOMG delight. (Without needing another account of some type.) Forget the logistics of e-commerce and such for the moment, think about culture. My mom is subscribed to the Jonas Kaufman channel now (opera), and she can see that Lena Horne performance that she missed when she was a girl, and clips of old films, etc.

Remember that you're teaching a foreign language that happens to be conducted in English. Get busy refining your metaphors; you're gonna need a lot of them. Things need to be written down even if Mom thinks that she's got it. iPad for Dummies or the equivalent is a good backup for "stupid questions" sez Mom. Lessons in small doses with lots of reinforcement. I'm even more irritated by accessible design and digital divide issues than I was before. The relatively small differences between iconography and "workflow" even within native iPad applications are writ larger. Icons need full translation. This stick on a square is a pencil on a piece of paper, it means new document. This stick on a square is an up-arrow indicating you want to send or put this somewhere else.

I wrote more here:
posted by desuetude at 11:59 PM on December 2, 2013

Oh, and seconding the stylus.
posted by desuetude at 11:59 PM on December 2, 2013

We bought my 74 -year-old mother an iPad mini for Christmas, and she loves it. She had taken computer courses in the past and hadn't enjoyed them at all.

My mother is a touch typist and she likes the combination cover and keyboard that we got to go with the iPad.

She also took classes at the local Apple store, which helped her a lot.
posted by quidividi at 1:45 AM on December 3, 2013

I can't recommend them personally but there are books - "Ipad for seniors" and Ipad2 for seniors" (in the for dummies series).
posted by lemniskate at 6:09 AM on December 3, 2013

Photostream, FaceTime, and instant access to email/chats can transform a lonesome day into an charming day -- and highly recommend the iPad. Since elderly people often face similar challenges as those with disabilities (weaker grip, vision challenges, etc.), you can find good tips for cases/mounts, accessories, and apps by reading advice they post, such as:, Mounting products, or OTs with

There are a lot of accessibility features built into the new iPads -- but sometimes you don't know what settings are best. There are a couple great resources you can consult on and the Nat'l Federation for the Blind.

If your mother is one who likes to share photos with other people, you can also get an Apple TV and show her how to display photos she has on her iPad to a larger TV screen wirelessly. (In the 60s & 70s, my parents and their parents always took 35mm slides & we all used to gather to watch slide shows together … the iPad + Apple TV + big screen TV allows them to recreate that experience.)
posted by apennington at 9:44 AM on December 3, 2013

Update: My mom just called me to gush about the tablet. "It's so much fun!" "I can take it everywhere!" "This is the best present I've ever received!" "I can't thank you enough!"

It's possible that she was not nearly as frustrated about the typing thing as I was.
posted by Room 641-A at 12:46 PM on December 3, 2013

Room 641-A and others - a simple Bluetooth keyboard can be useful for typing problems. It changes the whole "tiny device" thing somewhat, but if the user wants to type and is finding the screen a bit difficult, the keyboards are perfect.
posted by barnone at 7:41 PM on December 3, 2013

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